This article is my perspective on the public safety radio tower proposals for the City of Boca Raton and Palm Beach County. For a summary of the June 11, 2019 City Council meeting about the tower, see the companion article Boca’s Public Safety Dilemma – What you Need to Know.
On June 11, 2019 the City of Boca Raton passed a resolution to approve an Interlocal agreement with Palm Beach County to build and manage a 400’ public safety communication tower for the City and County at a cost of $2.3M with a contingency up to $3 million. From the information I have, the county terms and conditions don’t seem like a good deal financially for Boca Raton. Here’s why.
The deal says the County will build the tower and the City will reimburse them for it. The 40-story tower will be built on a City plot carved out of the Boca Raton Municipal Golf Course. The golf course is currently under contract to be sold to GL Homes sometime in the future. According to GL they want to put off closing until after the new Boca golf course on the former Boca Teeca golf course is built. That could easily be 2 years from now.
Why is Boca solving the County’s problems to the tune of $3 million?
According to attorney Ele Zachariades, the current City tower, was approved to be rebuilt in its current location as a 200’ tower in Oct, 2018 for only $400K. That plan results in tower proliferation after the county builds it’s 40-story tower on its own and brings the total tower count to four. But with the new deal, we’re talking $3 million for a single tower solution that keeps the count to three. Since the interlocal agreement says the City would own the tower, also having to pay a maintenance fee to the County seems unfair at first. But when you consider the alternative of the city building its own 200′ tower, it would have to bear the expense of all the maintenance.
George Brown, the Deputy City Manager, said that the City has been working on this agreement for over a year. So why pursue this single tower deal when a new tower was approved in 2018? I find this to be an alarming contradiction.
As you can see on the map, the blue star in the middle of the page is the City 180 ft owned tower which is 40 years old and due for replacement. The Red star is the proposed location for the 40-story tower which will be designed for public safety communications. The county equipment is in the top half and the city equipment in the bottom half of the tower. The two blue stars in the bottom right of the map denote two existing towers. On the right side is the Florida Turnpike.
To build the 40-story tower requires several county waivers to County codes such as a 5,280’ separation between towers which is obviously being ignored. This is an example of “cellular tower visual pollution”. Setbacks from nearest residential and nonresidential property lines are also being ignored.
Because of these waivers provided by the county, many of the public commenters at the June 11, 2019 meeting felt that present and future residents and businesses will experience significant loss of property value. For this reason, a website Keep West Boca Beautiful was formed which opposes this 40-story tower. Their goal is to inform nearby residents and businesses about the tower. As of June 19th, there are 883 signees to their petition. You would think that the City would listen to their concerns.
In the chart below, it is clearly shown that Boca tax dollars to the tune of $2.6 million will be “excessive and unnecessary” along with an unknown user fee on our own tower. Hey Boca the County has a bridge in Brooklyn for sale. The County has said they will build this tower in this area regardless of what Boca decides. George Brown said probably by eminent domain.
INSERT chart titled Fiduciary Duty to Residents of City. Courtesy of Ele Zachariades
There were several speakers that asked for a postponement so other options could be explored. The first was Ele Zachariades who represents a nearby property owner Glades Self Storage who proffered a business proposal. She said that they would donate land for a 200 ft tower and had a $380K quote from a vendor for a 180’ tower that they would own. They would then give the City the option of putting equipment on their tower at a cost-effective rate.
Mr. Dan Cohen, president of Sunshine Wireless, pointed out that the City would own liability issues since the City will own the tower. How convenient for the County. This tower would also require red blinking lights day and night whereas a 200 ft tower would not. He also said GL Homes would go along with his recommendations. Larry Portney who is GL VP confirmed that GL would gladly meet with Mr. Cohen if and when he is contacted.
Alan Feinberg said “Boca is the piggy bank for the entire county”.
The neighbors have a right to be outraged. Both present and future property owners will be looking at large property value losses but that is the case whether the city pursues the single tower or builds its own. It’s the addition of the 400’ county tower to the area that is a change and affects values.
The Real Problem
It seems to me that the city is between a rock and a hard place. We were told several times that the county is going to build a 400’ tower in the area whether the city agrees to this deal or not. If the city wishes to prevent that tower from having consumer cellular communications (as is the case on its current tower) then the city has to own the tower. If the city doesn’t sign this deal, the county is free to allow cellular communication tenants on its tower.
Boca Raton City Council voted 3 to 2 to pass the resolution. Council member Mayotte was pragmatic in her concern about how delay in building a new tower now will affect public safety in the future. When it came time for the vote there were several comments made by council members.
– Council Member Monica Mayotte said “I’m concerned about a vote delay causing a delay in the building of the tower … This is about the interlocal agreement. They can be amended if things are proffered and deals are made”.
– Council Member Andrea O’Rourke was concerned that postponing would affect public safety saying “Public safety is very important”.
– Council Member Jeremy Rodgers Said “We’re spending $3 million to bail out kinda the county’s problem”
– Council Member O’Rourke asked the question “Any outreach to the neighbors?”. Apparently little to none which explains the sudden involvement of the neighbors.
Is this a Sweetheart Deal or What?
Boca is paying $2.3 million and potentially up to $3 million to the County to build a 400 ft tower on City owned land and also will have to pay a user fee to the County who will manage the tower for 45 years. Why the rush? It may be the right decision but without all the facts out how do we know? I would like the details of the deal to be made public.
The County will vote June 27th and since they put this sweetheart agreement together, they will definitely approve it. This writer’s view is that six weeks postponement would have been the right decision. This would also give the Boca Raton City Council time to further review this agreement because it definitely appears that the County is putting their hands into the Boca piggy bank.